It’s like they’re looking in a mirror.
The Lakers and Dodgers are the two biggest sports teams in Los Angeles. That much is undisputed. Over the years, when one team’s stock was up, the other’s was down. But recently, for the last two years the two franchises have mirrored each other perfectly.
For the last three decades, both teams have been on completely different paths. During the Kobe and Shaq era of the early 2000s, the Lakers won three championships, while the Dodgers found themselves in a playoff drought.
After winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, the Lakers went into decline in the midst of a multi-year rebuild that saw them miss the playoffs in six consecutive seasons.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers were winning the NL West Division as easily as the sun shines or the crow flies. But despite reaching back-to-back World Series in 2017 and 2018, the Dodgers could not get over the proverbial mountaintop and be the last team standing at the end of the season.
In the summer of 2018, as the Dodgers were busy winning their sixth consecutive NL West division title and the NL pennant, the Lakers future turned with a simple swipe of pen to paper.
Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, NBA Champion, and NBA Finals MVP, LeBron James, agreed to sign with the Lakers after four years with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Surely, LeBron’s decision to come to LaLa Land would mean an end to the playoff drought, right? Wrong.
James injured his groin on Christmas Day and missed the next two months of the season. At the time of the injury, the Lakers were in fourth place in the Western Conference, in his absence, the team went into a free-fall and missed the postseason entirely.
Following that season, James knew he needed help if he was going to fulfill his promise of lifting the Lakers back to championship contention. So, in the summer of 2019, the Lakers traded away promising young talent in Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and Brandon Ingram for eight-time All-Star Anthony Davis. James and Davis were consensus top five NBA players, and together on the same team, they would change the course of NBA history.
When winter rolled around, the Lakers hit the All-Star break back where they belonged: in first place in the Western Conference with the best record in basketball. The playoffs were not only a lock, but a potential Western Conference Finals matchup with the rival Clippers had basketball fans foaming at the mouth.
At the same time, it was the Dodgers turn to make a blockbuster trade. On February 11, 2020, Former Cy Young Award winner David Price and 2018 American League MVP Mookie Betts were traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Dodgers in a deal that Dodgers’ fans had only previously dreamed about. The Lakers had traded for an additional superstar, and now the Dodgers had as well.
Then suddenly it all came to a halt.
The COVID-19 pandemic struck in early March and with it, the sports world came to a standstill. The NBA was the first league to shut down, then the rest followed, including Major League Baseball. The first-place Lakers title hopes? Those would be put on hold, as was the much-anticipated debut of Mookie Betts.
Nearly four months later, it was announced that sports would return, albeit in a much different way than we’ve ever seen before.
The NBA resumed inside a bubble environment at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. A quick 8-game ramp up gave way to an accelerated playoffs held without fans in attendance. The unusual format had some NBA players opt not to play at all, like Lakers guard Avery Bradley. However, when the dust settled in early October, the Lakers were the last team left standing, defeating the Miami Heat in six games to win their record-tying 17th NBA championship.
In the days that followed, there was no championship parade down Figuerora, no streamers, confetti, or fanfare. The Lakers celebrated with just members of their own organization at a small restaurant inside Walt Disney World.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers embarked upon a 60-game sprint of a regular season also without fans. Similar to the Lakers, they finished in first place and with the best record in the national league. After a quick two-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild card round, the Dodgers traveled to Arlington, Texas where they also entered into a bubble environment for the duration of the MLB playoffs.
After another three-game sweep of San Diego in the division series, the Dodgers had to overcome adversity and a 3-1 deficit in the championship series against the Atlanta Braves. After losing three of the first four, they won the next three, advancing to the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Just like the Lakers, it took the Dodgers six games to dispatch of the pesky Rays and finally lift the Commissioner’s Trophy. The first World Series title for the Dodgers since 1988. The team celebrated after the game at their hotel and flew back to Los Angeles the next day. Once again, there was no parade down Sunset Blvd., no speeches, or sparklers, just another championship that outsiders called tainted because of the pandemic.
Following the shortest offseason in professional sports history, the Lakers began training camp less than 60 days removed from winning the championship. The lack of rest and recuperation from the playoffs to the preseason had many medical experts warning that injuries would increase in 2021 due to the condensed season. Their foreshadowing would prove to be extraordinarily accurate.
Early in the NBA season, Anthony Davis went down with an Achilles injury, after a week of rest he returned too soon, and reinjured it in Denver. He would miss over three months of the season. Thankfully, LeBron James picked up the slack in his absence, but “The King,” also went down with a high-ankle injury in February and would miss two months before returning right before the playoffs started.
The Lakers season was riddled with other injuries as well. In addition to injuries that sidelined the likes of Jared Dudley, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and others, multiple players tested positive for COVID-19 and were forced to quarantine at home, missing several weeks of action. All of the injuries and positive tests translated to the Lakers finishing in seventh place in the Western Conference, forced into a one-game “win and your in” play-in game against the Golden State Warriors.
The Lakers rallied in the second half to win that game, but lost in the first round to the Phoenix Suns after more injuries to Caldwell-Pope and Anthony Davis seemingly ended any hope they had at advancing. The Lakers led the series 2-1 before Davis went down with a groin injury, and proceeded to lose the next three games in lopsided fashion without him.
As the Lakers road to repeat was besieged by roadblocks at every turn, so too was the Dodgers. The first week of the regular season saw injuries to Cody Bellinger and Corey Knebel. As the season went on, more and more injuries and off the field issues rattled the defending Champions. Including injuries to Dustin May, Corey Seager, Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw, Max Muncy, A.J. Pollock, and David Price. In total, as of this publication, over 30 different players have gone on the injured list this season.
Even though the bevy of injuries to different players on the Dodgers didn’t derail their regular season as much as it did the Lakers, it still could cost them valuable seeding in the postseason.
Despite having the second best record in baseball as of today, the Dodgers currently find themselves staring up at the first-place San Francisco Giants in the N.L. West. If the playoffs were to start today, the Dodgers would find themselves in a similar situation as the Lakers: a one-game, winner-take-all Wild Card matchup with either the San Diego Padres or Cincinnati Reds.
Here’s hoping that’s where the similarities between the two teams stop.
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Source: NBC Los Angeles